CEDAR CITY — The Recreation, Arts and Parks, or RAP, tax is on the ballot again after funding projects and organizations in Cedar City for 16 fiscal years. What do locals need to know before voting?
The RAP tax is a 0.1% sales tax that can fund specific items, allocating a penny for every $10 for recreation, parks and arts, said Jessica Kinsey, chair of the Iron County Public Arts Commission.
Approximately 66% of funds are used for parks and recreation, with the remaining 33% designated for arts.
Once collected, the tax is distributed to Cedar City by the State Tax Commission. Since its inception, the RAP tax has generated over $3 million for the arts and over $6 million for parks and recreation projects in the city, according to Cedar City’s website.
“Anyone coming to our community, either as a tourist or a visitor from a nearby community to shop or eat in restaurants, they’re all contributing to RAP tax,” Kinsley said.
If passed, it would mark the second RAP tax reauthorization since it was last on the ballot in 2013. The tax is similar to others instituted in communities throughout the state, including in Washington and Salt Lake counties, Kinsey said.
Art organizations awarded RAP tax include the Cedar City Heritage Theater, Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, Cedar City Arts Council, the Cedar City Livestock and Heritage Festival, the Johnson Center for Community Arts and Education, the Southern Utah Museum of Art, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Other organizations that have received funding include the Southwest Wildlife Foundation, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the American Youth Soccer Organization and the Cedar City Rotary Club.
The Cedar City Leisure Services Department has allocated RAP tax funds for various recreation needs, including the Aquatic Center kayaks and paddle boards, the Bicentennial Complex’s pickleball courts, multiple city trails and the upcoming Fiddlers Canyon park.
The trail at Cedar Canyon Nature Park leads to a bridge and the Coal Creek Trail, Cedar Canyon Nature Park, Cedar City, Utah, Date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Southwest Wildlife Foundation, St. George News
Applications are advertised each June, and the RAP Tax Boards meet twice yearly to review submissions and make recommendations to the Cedar City Council, which approves funding allocations.
“I think RAP tax just helps really further why Cedar City is such a unique place to live, to work and to recreate,” Kinsey said.
While some organizations, like the Utah Shakespeare Festival, received a “substantial amount” of RAP tax funding, the funds often cover a small but “healthy” percentage of those budgets, Kinsey said.
In contrast, smaller organizations may rely on the tax to cover half or more of their budgets.
“What happens if we don’t have RAP? We’re probably not going to have all of these incredible arts organizations,” she said.
Cedar City debates the tax
Earlier this year, some citizens began advocating against the RAP tax, partly in response to Drag Paint Day, hosted by Cedar Pride at the Johnson Center.
Cedar City resident Dan Kidder spoke at a Cedar City Council meeting in July. He criticized the event, saying similar functions should be held in private facilities, not those subsidized by tax dollars.
He urged citizens to “vote no to renewing the RAP tax and stop this slush fund that is used to reward certain behaviors and eliminate the winners and losers that the city picks.”
Councilmember R. Scott Phillips said his stance was “very narrow-minded” and that he shouldn’t make assumptions about the event.
“The RAP tax has been used for numerous things that have benefited all of the citizens of Cedar City,” Phillips said.
While some members of the city’s art community were concerned about the opposition, Kinsey said discussions about the RAP tax have been mostly positive.
“I think my biggest concern with that movement is the idea of throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” she said. “And I feel like some things in the community got a little blown out of proportion.
“There was an intertwining of RAP tax and other things when, actually, no tax dollars went to what people were claiming they did — the event at the Johnson Center specifically,” she added.
City Council candidates discuss the RAP tax
In October, Cedar City Council candidates Tyler Melling, Robert S. Cox, Brittany Fisher, Kathy Long, Mark Mumford and Carter Wilkey participated in a debate at SUU dealing with various topics, including the RAP tax.
Long said she is “very much in favor” of the tax, citing programs, facilities and organizations that benefit from it.
“The process seems to be working very well right now, and those that oppose the RAP tax probably don’t understand what it’s used for,” she said. “And it’s something that our city benefits greatly from as far as tourism, (and) as far as just the general welfare and contentment of our city.”
Cox said, “Saying there’s a good tax is like saying there’s a good debt — there’s no such thing.”
And while he likes “what the RAP tax does,” he advocated changing what items can be funded by the tax, such as operating and maintenance.
“If it’s renewed, I will happily do my duty to have it be equitable and fair, and I will try to change things at the State Legislature level,” he said.
Fisher is “very much in favor of the RAP tax” and agreed with Cox’s sentiment concerning using funds for operating and maintenance costs. However, she said the city should review how the funds are used.
“With the system that’s in place right now, I do worry about how much of the community’s taking a part and applying for RAP tax funds,” she said.
Wilkey said he is 100% in favor of the tax and appreciates that people visiting the city also contribute to the fund.
“As a person who has served on four city committees, you (as a council member) rely on your committees to do their due diligence and to look and to make those recommendations,” he said. “Ultimately, you make the decision, but those recommendations come heavily weighted, and I think that’s a very important process.”
Citing city events, Mumford said it seemed strange that they would even consider not renewing the RAP tax as the city identifies as Festival City.
“The city would be a completely different place if we didn’t have RAP tax,” he said. “I agree that we ought to look at how the funding for events is done — I think that’s an important issue. … The cities that don’t have arts, parks and recreation tend to have high crime levels.”
Melling is a member of the Arts RAP Tax Advisory Committee and said there is a stark difference in how those allocations are handled compared to funding for recreation and parks. He’d like to see a shift to prioritize residents.
“The arts community magnifies (tax funds) several times over,” he said. “We don’t quite see that on the parks and rec side, in large part because the city is the main beneficiary of those funds.”
How to vote
The general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 21, with the unofficial results expected the same day after 9 p.m. According to Iron County, ballots were mailed to eligible voters on Oct. 31.
The last day to register in person, via mail or electronically is Nov. 13 by 5 p.m.
Absentee ballots must be requested by Nov. 14. Iron County residents can vote early Nov. 14-17. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 20.
To learn more about voting in Iron and Washington counties, click here.
Cedar City News Reporter Jeff Richards contributed to this report.
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